They docked at ISSII and never went in spin, staying in the zero G mast, just moving down to another dock that had a screen showing a shuttle to Home in twenty minutes. The well inked man and his two bodyguards joined them, with one of the guards standing right at the hatch the entire wait, obviously intent on having first choice of seats when they boarded.
The guards handled themselves with enough finesse they had to have some previous zero G experience. The musician was a little more awkward, but was sensible, not trying anything fancy. He showed no discomfort, so either he had a natural ability to tolerate the weightlessness or he had the good sense to take the offered pill.
They were switching carriers, so their luggage was delivered to the dock. April didn’t bother, but Gunny broke the Tongan customs seal on his bag and put on a belt with a matched brace of 10mm pistols and a magazine carrier. He was after all on duty.
“Isn’t that a decompression hazard?” the body guard near them asked, worried.
“Not with low velocity frangible ammo.” Gunny didn’t tell him the left gun held armor piercing, just in case. He’d really try not to use that one.
The flight crew arrived early and opened up the shuttle. Two ladies, both middle aged, and both with that smooth tight face and easy movement that said they had life extension therapy. April couldn’t put a name to them, but she’d seen both before. They had on the grey uniform with a stylized rocket logo of Larkin Lines. April was happy to see that, they ran a tight outfit.
They filled the luggage locker full as most orbit to orbit travelers didn’t have the volume of bags they’d brought up from an Earth visit. The musician’s body guards looked happier now, being able to pick their seats. Then they sat for awhile because there were three paid seats empty, and they had ten minutes until their published departure time.
It was down to the last thirty seconds before two kids hit the hatch fast, and utterly confident like birds landing on a fence, and the older one, the boy of about ten crossed over his sister and stuck his head in the hatch to the flight cabin. “Our dad is coming.” He assured the crew. “He just can’t move as fast as us so he told us to go ahead. They didn’t like his papers getting out of the North American Sector and wanted to argue.”
April’s face clouded over in a frown. “Are they aware you are boarding a Home vessel?”
“I don’t think they ever got around to talking about where we’re going, not while we were there, dad seems to be on the don’t fly list,” the boy told her. “We just jumped past them through the gate and what are they going to do? They can’t keep up with us either, and it looks really bad to try to Taser a couple kids.” The little devil grinned at playing that advantage.
“It’s stupid,” the girl declared. “We’ve been up before. We’re the same people.”
April got out of her couch, “The three of us,” she informed the crew woman, “are the partners of Singh Industries, with who Larkin Lines does a great deal of business. I’d appreciate it if you would declare a ten minute hold to local control. We will indemnify you for any loss or fines you receive for the hold.”
“I’m quite aware of who you are. I’ve seen you speak in the Assembly. We will tell local control we are holding until our passengers board, and hang our weapons boom out in case they don’t understand we are upset,” she hurried back into the crew space.
“Thank you,” April called after the crewwoman, she turned to Gunny, “I need a pistol,” she demanded, open hand out.
“I made sure your bag was on top,” Gunny said, getting up and going to the locker. “Get your own, because I intend to go with you.”
“You are not obligated to guard me when I seek trouble.” April admitted. Gunny already had the customs tape cut and spread the bag open. April pulled out an aikuchi and stuck it in her waist band, and then the laser, not bothering with a holster, just taking it in her hand.
“I want to.”
“Thank you,” April said. The brother and sister still hanging by the crew hatch looked shocked at this turn of events.
The lights flickered and there were various sounds as the vessel detached from station utilities, which wasn’t normal with the lock hanging wide open. Gunny closed the bag and stuffed it back in the locker. “You kids take a couch and belt in. When we come back we may want to leave quickly, and you are one less thing we need to sort out.”
“Yes sir,” they said in unison, and moved quickly to the furthest open seats.
Gunny went out the lock, with April close behind. There were two customs and immigration agents approaching down the mast with a man between them.
“Are my kids aboard?”
“Aboard and strapped in, ready to depart,” Gunny assured him.
“We did not release them to board,” one of the agents said, angry.
“Read the departure screen,” April told him. “Where is this vessel going?”
The man looked at the flat screen on the boom bulkhead. “Oh, shit…He didn’t tell us he was going to Home,” the agent complained. “He had a NA passport.”
“You don’t have a departure schedule at your duty station?”
“Yeah, but there are four shuttles in count to leave. Only this one is going to Home.”
“Now you know. Is there any further problem?” Gunny asked, not especially friendly.
“No problem,” the fellow agreed. He and his partner had holstered Tasers, April had a weapon in hand, and Gunny two visible. That may have helped keep the conversation simple and brief. They turned to go.
“You have my passport,” the fellow objected, holding his hand out.
He was sullen, but the customs agent put it in his hand.
“Do you have anything else they held up, any luggage?” April asked.
“No, I anticipated problems, so we decided not to burden ourselves with anything we couldn’t fit in our pockets. Thank you for your help. I owe you. We are the Wilsons, I’m Matt, could I have your names?”
“I am April Lewis, this is my hired man Mack Tindal, call him Gunny. Strap in and we can talk later, we’re past departure time. They know better than this,” she complained to Gunny.
When they came in through the lock the crew woman who had agreed to a hold was braced in the hatch opening to the crew cabin, feet on one side, shoulders against the opposite flange, she had a short barreled twelve gauge nestled in her arms, watching the lock carefully.
“They say we’re clear to boost,” Gunny told her. “Don’t trust them to mean it.”
“I won’t. Would you close and dog the lock, please?” she asked and closed crew access and they could hear it seal shut when the dogs clunked.
“Lock closed,” Gunny reported at the intercom before he was the last to strap in. The crew undoubtedly had sensors on their board, but it didn’t hurt to confirm it.
The little girl, not much younger than the boy, maybe a year, spoke to her dad when he strapped in seat ahead of her. “Dad, she’s the one the teenagers all copycat, and upset all the teachers and mall cops!”
The grapples withdrew with a distant thud, and they got a gentle push sideways with no delay. A couple more turns and pushes, and the speaker came alive. “Nobody is giving us any trouble. We will ramp to a very modest third G burn in fifteen seconds. Local control approved our altered departure with no comment. Thanks for flying Larkin Lines,” she added automatically.
* * *
At Home the musician and his guards hustled out the door quickly, they weren’t in any hurry, following them down the short north mast. Their business associate Eddie and April’s grandfather met them at the bearing portal to spin. It was a huge contrast to the mob that greeted her last return from Earth. It was the middle of main shift and April’s parent’s would both be working, and Heather’s mother had a very hands off approach to raising her children, so nobody felt slighted or ignored.
They all logged on at the security station, touching the ceramic plate of the DNA reader. Nobody was fussy enough to ask a wipe down before using it, but several of them used a sani-wipe before putting on fresh gloves. The plate was silver impregnated and had an ultraviolet lamp flooding it, but people were paranoid, they were incubating some strange diseases out of the African continent that were worth worrying about.
Eddie was babbling on to Jeff about getting landing rights for Dionysus’ Chariot in Australia, and Barack was bending her grandfather’s ear about something. The three ahead of them were a little slower in zero G and they were going to catch up before they got to the elevator. The musician pulled a granola bar or a candy bar out of his pocket and opened it. He crumpled the wrapped and tossed it ‘down’ to the floor, but there was so little spin here it rolled up the curved bulkhead on the air currents.
“Hey, you dropped something!” April called out to him. When he looked she pointed to the wrapper still slowly climbing the surface counter-clockwise.
“It’s just trash, the clean-bot will get it,” he said, with an honestly quizzical look on his face.
“There is no clean-bot in zero G. The hand rails get wiped down weekly and the bulkheads get a wipe-down maybe every six months. Your trash will float around until it gets sucked into an air filter, or somebody else picks it up and takes it to a trash receptacle, because we don’t want to live in a pig sty like an Earth city. I’m informing you what local custom is,” she said pointedly. She was still irritated from the customs people breaking the free travel agreement, and not in a mood to let anything slide.
He’d turned around and April hadn’t stopped. It would have been OK, but his security man thrust himself between them and held a hand up to stop April. He wasn’t very graceful in zero G, and he ended up stopping his own motion by pushing off of April’s shoulder.
“How dare you lay hands on me?”
“I doubt the young lady is a threat to me Ron, I think you can back off.”
“They’re armed, and I see a hazard,” Ron insisted.
“There is a hazard, but you have no idea what it is,” April told him. “If you will promise to keep your hands to yourself in the future, I’ll ignore your ignorance.”
“I didn’t really intend to make contact, but I’m just doing my job. You can’t press in on my client like that when you are arguing. I’d have stopped you getting closer in any case.”
“You aren’t capable of stopping me if I decided to get physical with your client, or you, but you have no idea of your limitations. You will apologize or you will meet me here tomorrow morning and give me satisfaction. You have the choice of weapons, or if you come unarmed we will fight bare handed.” April was horrified, it was like some strangers voice saying this, but she was taking out every diminutive statement and insult built up in memory out on this final disrespectful act.
Eddie behind them muttered an indiscreet, “Oh, shit.”
“That’s easy for you to say with armed security standing behind you.”
“Hey, I’m standing back watching,” Gunny pointed out. He even took his hand off the rail and showed his empty palms to the guy before taking a grip again. “I’m supposed to deal with criminals and assassins, if she wants to duel that’s her’s to see to.”
“You’re crazy if you think I’ll duel with you, nobody does that anymore.”
“Indeed, I’m sorry to be the second person to advice you of local custom,” her grandfather said, “but if you refuse to meet her she will post notice, and you will be permanently expelled and barred from Home. The matter has come up before and is well established by the Assembly. Are you certain you want to kill this man?” he asked April as an aside.
“No, I just want a little respect. But what other way do I have to get it? I refuse to just brawl here with him until he yields, and if I had struck back at him when he pushed me it would have drawn in the other fellow, and then maybe some of our group. I won’t have them laying hands on me and bringing their Earth Think into Home corridors until it’s like living on the slum ball.”
The musician Amos jerked like he was slapped at slum ball. “Joe, you handle yourself better in no gravity, would you grab that wrapper for me, please? I’ll at least give Ms. Lewis that much satisfaction.”
“Thank you,” April was quick to acknowledge.
“Would you consider letting the matter slide with my man?”
“I’m sorry, no.”
“Ron, I won’t urge you to do anything either way. I’ve been happy with your service. If you don’t want to apologize I’ll pay your early passage off Home. If Joe wants to go with you I’ll find other security locally or do without.” Amos appeared more concerned than upset. He took his recovered wrapper from Joe and stashed it in a pocket.
Ron looked back and forth between them frowning. He took a deep breath. “I apologize for bumping you. I’ll try to not do it again. If I do please understand it’s just clumsiness in zero G. I’d really appreciate your assurance you won’t hold it against my client, since it’s true, I don’t know local customs.”
“Not at all, it was strictly between us, and as far as I am concerned it is like it never happened now. Let’s start with a clean slate,” she proposed.
Ron gave a tilt of his head that was almost a bow, acknowledging it, and kept his mouth shut. He went out front of Amos, to be away from April, trading places with Joe without any consultation. Joe picked up on it and fell back, so they weren’t totally clueless.
At the elevator Amos stood waiting with his brow furrowed. “Might I offer to take you to dinner sometime soon, by way of further apology, and to ask you more about Home?”
“I’ve been looking forward to going to go to dinner at the Fox and Hare tomorrow. If you’d like to join us at 1900 hours come along. It’s a private social club, and they won’t present a bill to our table, but you are welcome to be our guest.”
“Should I leave my security?”
“Whatever you wish. It’s a small place and if we sit together they may need to sit at an adjoining table, but they’ll be close enough to watch you. I suggest you go see Zach at the Chandlery near the cafeteria, and get spex like your guys have,” she said, touching hers. “They make getting around, like finding the club, a lot easier. Can you come Gramps?”
“I wouldn’t miss it, but after dinner I’d like to be excused to go off to the poker room.”
“What sort of poker?” Amos asked, interested.
“Oh, it’s just a friendly local game,” April’s grandfather explained. “Usually a fifty-hundred spread with a pot limit raise. If you suggest a bigger game with thousand dollar ante or more you may get enough guys to have a game, but most of them are going to beg off and have their own.”
“That sounds interesting. Do you have to be a member to play?”
“You can be my guest if you want to play. We’re not too stuck up to take your money.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Eddie grumbled.
April was surprised. Not that Eddie would play, but that he would lose.